Re­deem­ing the Team Meet­ing

It’s tempt­ing to skip that reg­u­lar gath­er­ing, but ad­vi­sory firms may be los­ing ef­fi­cien­cies if they let them slide.

Financial Planning - - CONTENT - By Michael Kitces

It’s tempt­ing to skip this reg­u­lar gath­er­ing , but firms may be los­ing ef­fi­cien­cies if they let them slide.

WE’VE ALL SAT THROUGH UN­PRO­DUC­TIVE TEAM meet­ings. At worst, they fill your day — and waste your time — so there’s lit­tle time left to ac­tu­ally get mean­ing­ful work done.

Good meet­ings, how­ever, can keep your team ac­count­able and fo­cused on the right pri­or­i­ties, while pro­vid­ing a cru­cial fo­rum for col­lab­o­ra­tion. The real prob­lem is not with team meet­ings them­selves, but with bad team meet­ings.

I’ll ad­mit I was a long-time skep­tic of hav­ing a weekly staff gath­er­ing — hav­ing spent an in­cal­cu­la­ble amount of my own time in un­pro­duc­tive meet­ings over the years — but have ul­ti­mately found that the pulse of the event re­ally does be­come the heart­beat of the busi­ness as it moves for­ward.

PAIN POINTS

In a grow­ing busi­ness, meet­ings are in­evitable. The larger the busi­ness, the more plen­ti­ful the meet­ings tend to be. Throw in

out­side ac­tiv­i­ties and vol­un­teer ef­forts, and it may feel like you spend more time dis­cussing what to do in meet­ings than ac­tu­ally do­ing any­thing.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to skip hav­ing meet­ings al­to­gether. Meet­ings at their most ba­sic level are about fa­cil­i­tat­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion and solv­ing prob­lems — clear pri­or­i­ties for any busi­ness. Not to men­tion the value of us­ing them to keep ev­ery­one on the same page about key met­rics and progress to­ward goals.

BUILD­ING ‘TRAC­TION’

En­trepreneur­ship ex­pert Gino Wick­man makes the case in his book, Trac­tion, that one of the most com­mon prob­lems for busi­nesses is their lack of ef­fec­tive weekly meet­ings. Wasted time is just the most ob­vi­ous prob­lem. The more ne­far­i­ous one is build­ing a busi­ness that lit­er­ally can’t get trac­tion to progress to­ward its goals, be­cause there’s no means for keep­ing ev­ery­one fo­cused.

Wick­man sug­gests a 90-minute weekly staff meet­ing that pro­vides for both prob­lem-solv­ing and ac­count­abil­ity. (Re­view his seven-item stand­ing agenda.)

The segue is sim­ply the kick-off to gets ev­ery­one fo­cused. It might in­clude a check-in — “How’s ev­ery­one do­ing to­day?” — and ide­ally in­cludes a chance for team mem­bers to share some­thing pos­i­tive, whether it re­lates to the meet­ing’s sub­stance or not.

From there comes re­view of the score­card, a sum­mary of the key data or met­rics for the busi­ness. This might in­clude the num­ber of new and lost clients (or as­sets, or rev­enue) for the month or quar­ter; the num­ber of client meet­ings you’ve had; the num­ber of client plans you’re work­ing on, the num­ber of prospects in your sales pipe­line, or the num­ber of trans­fers your staff is pro­cess­ing. Es­sen­tially, the score­card re­flects what­ever key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors that help you know where the busi­ness stands.

The next step is the rocks re­view. In this con­text, “rocks” refers to the fa­mous Stephen Covey anal­ogy. If you place the big-idea rocks in a bucket first, there’s room to fill in the gaps with peb­bles and sand. Whereas a bucket filled first with peb­bles and sand is packed so full it can’t hold any im­por­tant rocks.

To en­sure ef­fec­tive meet­ings, ev­ery­one should know what their big rocks are — their pri­or­i­ties for the week/month/quar­ter — and be able to quickly re­port their sta­tus. Next

comes client/em­ployee head­lines, such as no­table news from in­ter­ac­tions with the firm’s clients or other staff mem­bers. This could be point­ing out some­thing good, a prob­lem to be aware of, or some­thing that is oth­er­wise note­wor­thy.

The to-do list section is a chance to re­view the sta­tus of the prior week’s ac­tion items. Be­cause these are in­tended to be re­viewed, and usu­ally com­pleted, every week, they should be bite-size. No­tably, the pri­mary pur­pose of this section is ac­count­abil­ity — not to re­hash the de­tails of each to-do list item, but sim­ply to af­firm whether they’re done or not. If not, they should be com­pleted the fol­low­ing week. If a big­ger is­sue is block­ing com­ple­tion, that can be dis­cussed in the next section of the meet­ing.

Wick­man then sug­gests focusing on IDS, an acro­nym for Iden­tify, Dis­cuss and Solve prob­lems. This is where ev­ery­one comes to­gether to ac­tu­ally re­solve any is­sues that have arisen in the prior stages of the meet­ing. No­tably, the first step to the IDS phase is sim­ply iden­ti­fy­ing not just what the is­sues are, but which are most sig­nif­i­cant — given that a grow­ing busi­ness may eas­ily have more is­sues to re­solve than there is time in the meet­ing to re­solve them.

By pri­or­i­tiz­ing the most cru­cial tasks, how­ever, the team will by def­i­ni­tion be solv­ing the most im­por­tant prob­lems first. As a fringe ben­e­fit, solv­ing big prob­lems tends to make other prob­lems go away, as small is­sues are of­ten byprod­ucts of big­ger ones.

This may lead to more to-do list items to be tack­led for the fol­low­ing week, and some is­sues that get car­ried for­ward to the fol­low­ing week’s IDS phase — but only those that weren’t deemed im­por­tant enough to be re­solved in the cur­rent week. In the ad­vi­sory con­text, this could be solv­ing a soft­ware prob­lem, on­board­ing a new em­ployee, han­dling a com­plex client prob­lem or brain­storm­ing how to fix a process that isn’t work­ing.

The con­clu­sion of the weekly meet­ing should re­cap the to-do list items as­signed for the fol­low­ing week, un­re­solved is­sues that may carry over to the fol­low­ing week and a brief dis­cus­sion about whether any meet­ing out­comes should be com­mu­ni­cated — a mes­sage to a par­tic­u­lar client, a new ini­tia­tive to all clients or a new pol­icy to be com­mu­ni­cated to staff.

No­tably, the to­tal break­down of Wick­man’s meet­ing tem­plate in­cludes a mere 30 min­utes on six of the seven phases of the meet­ing, and 60 min­utes for the IDS phase, where the team prob­lem-solv­ing ac­tu­ally oc­curs. In other words, the meet­ing is one-third com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ac­count­abil­ity, and two-thirds prob­lem-solv­ing. This split is de­lib­er­ate, as the No. 1 fail­ing for most meet­ings is the feel­ing that noth­ing is get­ting done. Do­ing real prob­lem-solv­ing in a meet­ing pro­vides a sense of progress and ac­com­plish­ment.

A CON­FES­SION

I ad­mit I long re­sisted adopt­ing a for­mal weekly meet­ing process. Hav­ing lived through too many un­pro­duc­tive meet­ings, I was not ea­ger to vol­un­tar­ily in­sti­tute a bur­den on my­self and my team.

Yet hav­ing fi­nally made the tran­si­tion, I now see the power of the stand­ing weekly team meet­ing — al­beit with a few tweaks: A re­view of weekly (and monthly) busi­ness data

Re­view task list

Monthly projects (my “rocks”) Repri­or­i­tize for the up­com­ing week Weekly to-dos (clients, in­ter­nal busi­ness

Solv­ing big prob­lems tends to make other prob­lems go away, as small is­sues are of­ten byprod­ucts of big­ger ones.

projects, etc.)

Other busi­ness/staff is­sues

The meet­ings are sched­uled for an hour, and although I don’t specif­i­cally ar­tic­u­late it in the agenda, time is re­ally spent not just re­view­ing the task list, but dig­ging into prob­lem­atic to-do items.

The whole ex­pe­ri­ence, and Wick­man’s book, have taught me that the pri­mary prob­lem with most meet­ings is that they leave no time for ac­tual prob­lem-solv­ing. In­stead, the whole meet­ing is usu­ally spent just re­port­ing. Ever at­tended a meet­ing where noth­ing sub­stan­tive was talked about? Ex­actly.

For our pur­poses, data track­ing comes di­rectly from our busi­ness soft­ware — as well as some light mas­sag­ing of the data in an Excel spread­sheet — and the weekly to-dos and pri­or­i­tiz­ing comes from our team’s task man­age­ment soft­ware (CRM or project man­age­ment tools). As weekly meet­ings have be­come habit, we some­times take a few min­utes just to fo­cus on how to make it eas­ier to pre­pare the stan­dard re­port­ing for the meet­ing it­self. We’ve also been work­ing to au­to­mate re­port­ing of some key busi­ness met­rics.

Over­all, by tak­ing a few min­utes every week to re­di­rect the team’s pri­or­i­ties, I can en­sure that we’re al­ways work­ing on what­ever I truly be­lieve is the high­est and best use of the team’s en­er­gies.

4 ES­SEN­TIAL TIPS

Ul­ti­mately, you may de­cide to adopt Wick­man’s weekly meet­ing agenda ver­ba­tim, or to craft your own. What­ever your path, I would ar­gue the four es­sen­tial ar­eas for weekly meet­ings are:

Data re­port­ing. What are the KPIS for your ad­vi­sory busi­ness? If you’re not sure, start track­ing a few (e.g., new clients, new Aum/rev­enue, lost clients, prospect meet­ings, etc.) and ad­just based on whether you’re find­ing them mean­ing­ful. Dis­cussing them in a weekly meet­ing con­text will quickly ac­cen­tu­ate whether the data are rel­e­vant (and if not, what would be).

To-dos. This is cru­cial for ac­count­abil­ity. What were the tasks from last week? Which ones are get­ting checked off? Which are get­ting car­ried over? What are we adding? Ide­ally, this is di­rectly in­formed by the as­signed tasks in the task man­age­ment/work­flows from your CRM, but at min­i­mum, keep track of key to-dos sep­a­rately so you can re­port on them eas­ily at the weekly team meet­ing.

Pri­or­i­tiz­ing. For me, this is about en­sur­ing that the team works on what­ever is most im­por­tant for the week — which may vary from week to week, as some projects are paused and re­vis­ited later. From Wick­man’s per­spec­tive, this is where you re­new your fo­cus on the rocks that have to be “piled” in the cur­rent month or quar­ter, to en­sure the busi­ness is meet­ing its big ob­jec­tives.

Prob­lem-solv­ing. Leave time — a lot of time — in each weekly meet­ing to ac­tu­ally solve what­ever is­sues have cropped up in the in­ter­ven­ing week and pre­pare for the com­ing week’s pri­or­i­ties, as well as re­spond­ing to any data track­ing that caused con­cern. If you fol­low Wick­man’s rule, this should be al­lo­cated two-thirds of your meet­ing time.

Ad­di­tion­ally, one of the big­gest keys to the suc­cess of the weekly team meet­ing is sched­ul­ing it at a fixed time, and ex­pect­ing ev­ery­one to honor that obli­ga­tion. Our weekly meet­ings are at 10:30 a.m. on Mon­days — enough time for ev­ery­one to get ori­ented at the be­gin­ning of the day, in­clud­ing pre­par­ing the meet­ing agenda and the weekly data re­port­ing — be­fore dis­cussing the com­ing week’s ac­tiv­ity and obli­ga­tions.

In my case, this was part of my broader per­sonal ini­tia­tive to re­gain con­trol of my time and sched­ule by craft­ing a more rig­or­ously struc­tured, stan­dard meet­ing sched­ule.

Be­yond help­ing sched­ule and man­age time though, a stand­ing weekly meet­ing forms the ba­sis for ac­count­abil­ity. When ev­ery­one knows the weekly meet­ing is com­ing and ev­ery­one will be held ac­count­able, things get done.

The meet­ing ef­fec­tively be­comes the dead­line for weekly tasks — and there’s noth­ing quite like the power of a dead­line.

When ev­ery­one knows the weekly meet­ing is com­ing and ev­ery­one will be held ac­count­able, things get done.

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